References seem pretty straightforward. However, many candidates have a lot of questions and, worse, misconceptions about them. This can be dangerous for your career. Bad references can ruin your candidacy as much as good ones can strengthen it. Make sure you know enough about references to protect your professional reputation. Check out some common questions and answers about references below.
1. Do ‘backdoor references’ really happen? Yes. This phenomenon is even more prevalent in the last 5 years or so because of LinkedIn’s growing popularity. If you’re not familiar with a backdoor reference, this is the basic premise: hiring managers will reach out to any personal contacts they have at your previous employers. This can be a problem particularly when you had a bad experience working at an employer. Even if you choose not to give anybody there as a reference, backdoor references can reveal the skeletons in your closet. Backdoor references can be especially common when you’re looking for a job in sectors like Tech, where most people in the field are active on LinkedIn. Here at AVID Technical Resources, we’ve seen this happen to some of the candidates we represent.
2. Can managers really be forbidden from acting as a reference? Yes, but it’s important to note that some will do so anyways. There are definitely companies that have set policies that forbid managers from giving a reference. The severity of these policies and how strictly they’re enforced varies. Some managers feel like they have the ability to give a reference anyways without any real consequences. It could be worth considering this information if you’re leaving a company with such a policy. You don’t want to push too aggressively, but it may be worth asking if the manager would feel comfortable acting as a reference. You never know if they’ll say yes.
3. Is giving a bad reference illegal? Some candidates wrongly assume that managers will never give them a bad reference because they can be sued or suffer some other legal consequence. This is not true, so it’s important to act with it in mind. Give only references who will say positive things about you. Don’t burn any bridges. Work hard to build good working relationships with coworkers and bosses. As mentioned above, you never know if hiring managers will reach out for a backdoor reference. The point of a reference is for employers to get a complete, honest picture of somebody as an employee. While a lot of managers refrain from outright lambasting somebody (mostly out of basic human decency), they will be honest if they see red flags.
4. Can I just hand over my references to hiring managers or recruiters? This is a mistake that staffing agencies and managers see far too often. Contact your references and give them a heads-up that you’re on the hunt for new jobs. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind acting as a reference for you. Let them know a bit about the kinds of roles you’re looking for. You want to treat your references with courtesy, and respect. You also want to take the opportunity to thank them for their help in your job search. They are doing you a favor and you should make sure to acknowledge it.